Some years back, my wife and I visited Paris for one of our major anniversaries. It was, overall, a delightful visit, in spite of the pickpocket at the Pont Neuf Metro station and the wildcat strikes being conducted by government workers protesting something – which meant you never knew when museums would be open or closed. We did finally manage to see the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, despite the best efforts of the employees union.
Around the corner and up a block from our hotel was a wonderful restaurant, Au Petite Riche, complete with surly French waiters. One day, we went wandering a bit further north, only a couple of blocks, walking toward the church, Sacre Couer, on Montmartre. We found ourselves in one of those typical Parisian neighborhoods, Rue des Martyrs, where no one seemed to speak English but, when it comes to shopping, all languages are spoken here. I remember small restaurants and cafes, two bakeries, the corner flower stand, the chocolate shop, and the wine shop.
The neighborhood recently became the setting for a novel, Paris, Rue des Martyrs, by Adria Cimino. Because of the memories of our trip, I couldn’t resist the ad from Amazon. What I discovered was a story comprised of four sub-stories, each gradually embracing the others, until a full novel emerges.
Rafael Mendez is a young man who’s left the shambles of a family in Colombia. His parents, involved in the borderline-criminal emerald trade, have both been killed, and his father’s dying words to his son was to “find Carmen.” Rafael knows that his birth mother lives in Paris, and he eventually finds himself staring at an apartment building, 120 Rue des Martyrs.
One of the residents of that building is Cecile de Champigny, a woman approaching middle age who feels increasingly ignored by her older husband and generally ignored by her teenage children and older stepdaughter. She is longing for something – love, attention – and unexpectedly finds it when she sees an artist drawing a picture of her in a café. He disappears, leaving the drawing behind him.
Andre Wren is an aging stage and film star, trying and rather bitterly failing to overcome the aftermath of a motorcycle accident. His wife Clarisse has left him. One day, sitting in a cafe on the Rue des Martyrs, a young man introduces himself. As Andre’s son.
Mira Galino is an artist living in Naples, co-owner of an art gallery. She accidentally walks in on her fiancé and her business partner having an affair; she turns around and walks out, traveling to Paris to stay with a friend. Unexpectedly, she runs into her brother Septime, also an artist and long distanced from his family. And then Mira discovers she is pregnant.
The reader watches as Cimino gradually ties these four disparate stories together into a coherent whole. This is less the “six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon” and more like “one-and-a-half degrees of separation.” She makes the reader care about the characters, even the obnoxious Andre with his general anger at the world for his accident and physical impairments. Gradually, a kind of grace, the grace that leads to redemption, suffuses the story.
Cimino spent more than 10 years as a reporter for the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. She’s a cofounder of Velvet Morning Press, based in Paris, where she lives with her family. Her short stories have appeared in two anthologies, That’s Paris and Legacy, and she’s the author of the novel Close to Destiny. She’s also written a prequel novella for this latest novel, entitled Before Paris, which has been available free on Amazon Kindle.
Paris, Rue des Martyrs is both an intriguing story and a treat for those who might be at least a little familiar with the neighborhood.
Photograph of Rue des Martyrs via Wikimedia Commons. Used with permission.